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Why Study Geography, Earth or Environmental Sciences?

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<strong>Why</strong> study <strong>Geography</strong>, <strong>Earth</strong> and <strong>Environmental</strong> <strong>Sciences</strong>?<br />

Emma Hargrave<br />

Student at the School of <strong>Earth</strong> and Environment, University of Leeds<br />

Emma Hargrave won the 2009 GEES Student<br />

Essay competition, and her winning entry is<br />

below. The full list of winners and runners up<br />

can be viewed at http://www.gees.ac.uk<br />

Telling people I do <strong>Environmental</strong> Science is<br />

always met with an increasingly predictable look of<br />

confusion, followed by a quick change of subject.<br />

Either people don’t know what this strange degree<br />

entails <strong>or</strong> they immediately assume I’m a “tree<br />

hugger” that fights f<strong>or</strong> protection of badgers.<br />

Actually, I don’t blame them. I somewhat stumbled<br />

on the degree after flicking through hundreds of<br />

prospectuses and eventually finding it in the “related<br />

degrees” section of geography. Without sounding<br />

clichéd, this was quite simply a life-changing<br />

moment, as studying environmental science has<br />

presented me with countless opp<strong>or</strong>tunities.<br />

<strong>Environmental</strong> science is a relatively new and<br />

relevant discipline and this is what makes it so<br />

exciting. You’ll soon find that dynamic issues<br />

covered in lectures appear in newspapers the next<br />

week, whilst lecturers are so passionate about<br />

their speciality you feel compelled to actually do<br />

the extra reading. Indeed, studying environmental<br />

science will allow any student to compile the perfect<br />

CV, in a way that not just ticks the right boxes, but<br />

also allows personal growth and fulfilment. A bold<br />

statement perhaps, but let me explain.<br />

One of the main skills an employer looks f<strong>or</strong> is the<br />

ability to w<strong>or</strong>k well in a team. What better way to<br />

practice this than through the joy that is field w<strong>or</strong>k.<br />

You’ll soon realise that this will entail being cold,<br />

wet and wishing you had bought that extra pair of<br />

gloves to prevent the onset of frostbite. Whether<br />

this involves taking 300 noise measurements at a<br />

wind farm, <strong>or</strong> crossing a marshy threshold with only<br />

two pairs of waders between six, the skill of team<br />

w<strong>or</strong>king is soon picked up. Indeed, week-long field<br />

trips in isolated youth hostels are the perfect setting<br />

f<strong>or</strong> the beginning of lifelong friendships.<br />

The ability to adapt and cope with different<br />

situations is another skill high on employers’ lists<br />

and a necessity in everyday life. As environmental<br />

science is an interdisciplinary degree, there is<br />

prolific opp<strong>or</strong>tunity to build on this. Geologists,<br />

physicists, mathematicians, chemists, biologists,<br />

social scientists, philosophers and economists<br />

all marvel the wonder that is the environmental<br />

scientist – the scientist that moves across all<br />

subjects, breaking all boundaries. Maybe I’m<br />

getting a little carried away, but my point is that<br />

environmental science is a discipline that requires<br />

knowledge in all areas, allowing new and useful<br />

perspectives. Take f<strong>or</strong> example land degradation<br />

in the Kalahari Desert. Sustainable solutions can<br />

be found, not just by analysing the soil, <strong>or</strong> just by<br />

studying local behaviour, but by combining both<br />

physical and social knowledge.<br />

The biggest problem of studying environmental<br />

science is perhaps f<strong>or</strong> the very reason that makes<br />

it so interesting. With such a broad range of<br />

disciplines and issues covered, how is one supposed<br />

to decide which to specialise in. As the end of<br />

second year approaches students frantically pour<br />

over their notes in an attempt to make a decision<br />

on their dissertation topic. It’s not a lack of interest<br />

in the subjects but rather too much interest in<br />

everything. Those lucky few that have already<br />

decided their lifelong ambition is to study microinvertebrates<br />

in upland streams are very much<br />

envied.<br />

Such is the passion that environmental science<br />

instils in its students. I challenge any environmental<br />

scientist to say they haven’t felt passionate about<br />

one issue in lectures. Something as seemingly<br />

mundane as heather mo<strong>or</strong>lands can spark furious<br />

debates, whilst the effects of climate change are<br />

so far-reaching that everyone is influenced. Not<br />

only do students feel passion, they feel motivated<br />

to change things. Symptoms such as compulsion<br />

to turn off all lights, re-use plastic bags and lobby<br />

councils to reject airp<strong>or</strong>t expansion are often<br />

experienced. Friends and relatives may notice<br />

changes in the student’s behaviour, with increased<br />

interest in rock f<strong>or</strong>mations, and constant attempts<br />

to predict the weather.<br />

Planet issue 22 6<br />

September 2009


I feel privileged to have such an interest in my<br />

degree. Friends on other degrees are bewildered<br />

when I’m motivated to write a 2000 w<strong>or</strong>d essay on<br />

the Montreal Protocol <strong>or</strong> get excited at the thought<br />

of visiting the Eden Project. They often complain<br />

of their dull lecturers and their monotonous<br />

presentations. In contrast, the variety of lecturers<br />

within environmental science is enough to enthral<br />

any hung-over student at nine in the m<strong>or</strong>ning.<br />

From ecologists with nose piercings to highly<br />

intelligent researchers with names on a Nobel prize,<br />

you are sure to be inspired. It is not uncommon<br />

f<strong>or</strong> such lecturers to create an enthusiasm f<strong>or</strong> a<br />

particular career. When a researcher tells of his<br />

near-death experiences in an African rainf<strong>or</strong>est you<br />

cannot help but want to follow in his footsteps.<br />

Career opp<strong>or</strong>tunities are endless f<strong>or</strong> environmental<br />

scientists, especially in this time of environmental<br />

awareness. Companies are scrambling over each<br />

other to hire the most qualified graduate to oversee<br />

their environmental impact. With the effects of<br />

climate change already affecting the UK, councils<br />

are creating armies of sustainability officers and<br />

ever m<strong>or</strong>e money is being invested into new<br />

technologies. Some environmental scientists seek<br />

the adrenaline rush that can only be gained through<br />

flying through st<strong>or</strong>m clouds in reinf<strong>or</strong>ced aircraft.<br />

Or how about w<strong>or</strong>king on a tropical island, helping<br />

local communities to cope with the onset of rising<br />

sea levels?<br />

In trying to conclude why one should study<br />

environmental science I find myself lost f<strong>or</strong> w<strong>or</strong>ds.<br />

How do you write down on paper how a degree can<br />

create so much passion and dedication? How do<br />

you explain the effect it has on your personal beliefs<br />

and values? Quite simply environmental science is<br />

not just a degree, it is a lifestyle – one that I could<br />

not recommend m<strong>or</strong>e highly.<br />

Emma Hargrave<br />

Planet issue 22 7<br />

September 2009

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